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Preaching Without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism

By Marilyn J. Salmon (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2006. ISBN 0-8006-3821-2)

Reviewed by Roy W. Howard
Saint Mark Presbyterian Church
Rockville, Maryland

Beginning in the first century and continuing to the present, Christian pastors have been responsible for rightly interpreting Judaism to their congregations through preaching and teaching the Bible. The history of this challenge is filled with ugly examples of failure that have contributed to ignorance among Christians about Jews and Judaism and in many cases violent attacks against them. Marilyn J. Salmon makes a brilliant effort to correct this problem by writing for well-educated Christian preachers who disavow obvious anti-Jewish sentiments, even regularly engage in interfaith relations with Jews, yet often unintentionally adhere to assumptions that perpetuate contempt of Judaism. She argues that Christian preaching must learn to proclaim the gospel without depending upon Jews as a foil for Jesus.

To illustrate a different way, she offers her own sermons, as well as others, as teaching examples. “Belief in God’s victory over sin and death through Christ’s resurrection is fundamental to Christian faith. That this story has been used as a weapon against Jews is the church’s sin. It is time to repent and learn to tell the story without contempt for Judaism” (page 155).

Deploying exegetical and historical skills to examine first century Judaism, Salmon contends that the Newer Testament is a record of an intra-Judaism struggle among Jews that eventually resulted in Christianity. Two chapters are particularly illuminating for preachers and Bible teachers. One closely examines the historical role of the Pharisees, often the targets of scorn, yet clearly misunderstood by most Christians. The other is devoted to a closely argued exegetical interpretation of the most incendiary of passages in the gospel of John that describe Jesus attacking “the Jews.” Combining theological insight with historical and exegetical skills, she also examines the practice of supersessionism in sermons, and offers a reading of the passion narratives that places the confrontation with Jesus and the religious leaders in an historical context that illumines the present battles.

This is an extraordinary book and much needed in our time. Rather than rehearse old arguments, the author illumines the exegetical and historical roots of anti-Judaism and supersessionism while offering a positive alternative that does not sacrifice the integrity of the gospel. The chapters on the Pharisees and the gospel of John are reason enough to read this book carefully; but there is much more. It deserves to be read and inwardly digested by every preacher and should be required reading in homiletics courses.